The best parental control apps make it simple and easy for you to keep your family safe against unwanted content and security threats.
With it increasingly ordinary for children to be able to access the internet these days, especially through their phones, many parents will naturally be anxious about them accessing inappropriate content. This is especially when children don't have to seek it out to be exposed to it, with many popular social media websites commonly abused by bots to spam users with private messages containing ads for adult content.
This is where the best parental control apps enter the picture to give adults peace of mind, to give their children the freedom to wander through the world wide web without stumbling across inappropriate content.
We believe that it would be appropriate to learn how your children use the internet and communicate with them before you decide to enforce any restrictions with the parental control apps. If children feel that you’re imposing your will without a proper reason, and they get frustrated enough, they will find ways to circumvent any restrictions you may impose, despite the fact that you have their best interest at heart.
Unlike hardware parental control options that control the websites you can access over your Wi-Fi, the parental control apps have a broader usage, regardless of whether your kids are using your Wi-Fi or are anywhere else, surfing the web. Namely, the apps often offer location tracking, alerts, calls, text monitoring, screen time management as well as website filtering. With that in mind, we’ve also tested and reviewed the best free parental control apps.
We've also featured the best identity management software.
Reader Offer: Free trial from Aura
With Aura's parental control software, you can filter, block, and monitor websites and apps, set screen time limits. Parents will also receive breach alerts, Dark Web monitoring, VPN protection, and antivirus. Start your free trial today.
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Reader Offer: Free trial from Bark Parental Control
Techradar editors praise the service for its custom controls, "smarter-than-most" app content filtering, as well as SMS and email monitoring. See here for details on Bark's phones and pricing plans.
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Best for restricting specific content
Aura includes a password manager, VPN, antivirus, password storage, ID protection and the parental control app. The app is easy to use and can be downloaded by scanning a QR code on the device you wish to use it on.
Even if you opt for the free version of Qustodio, you are still getting a great all-round parental control app available on a wide variety of platforms. But it can still be thwarted by VPNs.
Net Nanny has some great filtering options, with real-time content analysis to make sure a site is safe, as well as a social media focus and screen time monitoring. Apps can also be blocked or restricted.
Best for Microsoft
If you’re a Microsoft family, then this might be for you. It can be used to limit screen time on Windows machines and Xbox consoles, but filtering limited.
Best for School
Norton Family works well for those with Android and Windows devices - but there is no iPhone app. It also has a School Time feature that restricts access to learning sites for certain durations of your choosing.
Best for customization
Bark emphasizes trust over snooping, providing alerts on potential cyberbullying and illicit messages with the help of AI, but it lacks some of the advanced tracking features of its competitors.
Best parental control app for restricting specific content
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
✅ You’re concerned about offensive content and cyberbullying: Aura alerts the parents if their child becomes a victim of cyberbullying, and it can also prevent kids from accessing unwelcome content.
✅ You want full protection: Aura has plenty of other features and uses. You’re not only getting a parental control app but also identity protection, antivirus, VPN, password manager, and more.
❌ You don’t want to pay for everything: Aura is one big digital security solution so if you only need a parental control app and not all the other things Aura provides, you might not want to spend that extra money.
🔒 Aura is a powerful digital security software that does a huge number of things, and does them well. The parental control app that’s included in the Family plan has a bunch of features that every parent out there will be glad to have. ★★★★½
Aura is an all-in-one solution that has pretty much everything you need to protect yourself and your family from the dangers lurking on the internet. It includes a password manager, VPN, antivirus, password storage, ID protection, and of course the parental control app.
Setting up the parental control app is quick, while the app is simple to use. You’ll need to scan the QR code to download the app on the device you wish to use it on, and you’re ready to start. Do note that you’ll need to state the child’s age, as the app can’t be used by anyone older than 18.
Parents monitor and manage the device’s usage via the screen time analytics feature. This allows the parents to keep track and limit the amount of screen time. One of the things that makes this app great is the ability to send alerts to parents in case of cyberbullying. In addition, the app can prevent the children from accessing or seeing unwelcome and offensive content, as well as provide insights for parents which is something you won’t find often.
The parents can also restrict or block certain websites, apps, and games. They can also customize what their children can access. For instance, they can block certain channels on YouTube. If you don’t want to block something completely, you can set a timer that allows the kids to see that specific content, but when the timer expires, it will automatically block it.
Read our full Aura review.
Best parental control app overall
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
✅ You want something easy to use: Despite its wealth of features, the interface for Qustodio is intuitive, and the help center really is... helpful.
✅ You want a great free option: The free option for Qustodio is still quite comprehensive, and few of its rivals can match it on that front.
❌ Your child knows about VPNs: If your child is at all in the know about VPNs and how to use them, then Qustodio will be rendered useless, since it can't legislate for their use.
❌ You're on a budget: The free version of Qustodio protects just one device, and the premium tiers are expensive compared to the competition.
🔒 Qustodio is the best parental control app all things considered, offering great filtering functionality and many other features. Just hope that your child isn't using a VPN. ★★★★½
One of the best parental control apps we’ve tested, Qustodio is a great all-rounder with a fantastic free offering that is available across Mac, Android, iOS, Kindle, and Chromebook platforms, supporting up to 15 devices in total.
If you don’t have the budget for the paid version, the free app remains one of the most comprehensive parental control tools around, enabling you to set rules and time schedules, as well as block pornography and other unsuitable content. However, the paid versions are in our opinion pricey, though they do offer a rich feature set. Yet, if your children decide to use a VPN, you will be paying for naught, as the app doesn’t block VPN usgae.
Qustodio's interface was easy and intuitive for us to use, making it easy for parents to gain some control over what their children are accessing online. As you explore the system, a slew of icons await you in the menu on the left-hand side: Your Family, Your Devices, Your Account, Help Center, and Logout. Although, disappointingly, the multi-factor authentication feature is absent from the "Your Account section," you can still make alterations to your subscription and disable email alerts. The Help Center is a treasure trove of information adorned with user-friendly categories, readily accessible guides, and a search bar at your fingertips. Through this easy to use interface, you can easily limit your children’s activity and filter what type of content they are allowed to access.
Qustodio also offers excellent customer support in our view, including one-to-one help for customers paying for the Care Plus package. With Care Plus, you can book a call at any time and talk to a Qustodio expert to help you solve problems you encounter when using the app. In fact, you don’t even need a problem before you place a call. Qustodio's experts are on hand to simply guide you through the installation process. With its great support and raft of features for a wide range of platforms, Qustodio is undoubtedly one of the best parental control solutions around.
Read our full Qustodio parental control software review.
Best parental control app for content filtering
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
✅ You want custom content filtering: The filtering options for Net Nanny are plentiful, and it uses real-time analysis to determine the safety of sites.
✅ Your child uses YouTube: YouTube monitoring is built in, which is super handy given its popularity.
❌ You want a reliable app: Based on our testing, the app didn't always perform well, even crashing on occasion.
❌ You want platform parity: Some of Net Nanny's features only work on certain platforms: location tracking doesn't work on Windows and Mac, for instance.
🔒 Net Nanny is another very capable parental control app, with intelligent content filtering and YouTube monitoring. We didn't find the app that reliable, though, and desktop platforms have no location tracking. ★★★★
We love Net Nanny’s focus on social media and the customization it offers, especially for the screen time monitoring functions. Perhaps Net Nanny’s biggest strength is its intelligent content filtering, which doesn’t simply rely on blacklists or blocking by category. Instead, Net Nanny uses real-time content analysis to flag any issues with the sites your child is attempting to access.
Net Nanny also has all the essential features that we would expect from a parental control app. This includes the ability to block or restrict app usage, limit screen time and view a report on your child’s screen use. The app also comes with YouTube monitoring built in, which we think is essential given the popularity of the video streaming site - and the nature of some of the uploads there. Net Nanny also includes tracking tools that give you the ability to view the location (and location history) of all your children on a single map.
We found that all of this information is neatly presented through the app’s intuitive dashboard, where you can dig deeper into the reports the app offers. However, it is worth noting that when used the app during our review, it did crash a couple of times, letting us access any website we liked, so it seems it isn't the most robust.
Net Nanny is available for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Kindle Fire platforms but it’s worth keeping in mind that the features you have access to vary depending on the platform being used. For example, Windows and Mac laptops don't support location tracking.
In terms of price, Net Nanny offers three different plans. Protecting one desktop device, PC or Mac, will set you back $35.99 a year, a five-device family protection plan costs $54.99, while the 20-device option is priced at $89.99. These prices may not be the cheapest we came across but they compare well against other advanced parental control software - and, usually, these don’t come with real-time content filtering.
Read our full Net Nanny review.